One reason that event planners love wedding cocktail hours and after-parties is that these bookends to the main dinner reception allow planners additional opportunities to showcase their creativity.
Consider the pre-reception cocktail party. A wedding mainstay, this hour is evolving from its more conventional template, serving now as an energetic kickoff for the fun to come. For example, Sheila Weiner, president and founder of The Event Group, a full-service, global special event company located in Pittsburgh, Pa., produced a cocktail party that included the bartender cycling through the space on an 11-foot-tall tricycle, pouring drinks from his lofty perch.
“When couples add interactive or personalized elements to the cocktail hour, it is always much more memorable for guests and sets the party apart from a traditional cocktail hour,” she says. “Recently, one of our couples had custom puzzles made using their engagement photos for guests to enjoy at their cocktail hour. And when the weather and venue allows, many couples enjoy the addition of lawn games, such as custom, personalized bag toss boards or miniature golf.”
After-parties tend to be somewhat free-wheeling, with the attendees on the younger side, so this is where planners and designers can really get inventive. JoAnn Gregoli, owner and event designer/producer for Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli, a full-service event production company based in New York City, once devised an after-party around a family’s pool.
“We had mermaids and mermen placed around and hired synchronized swimmers to perform,” she says. “We passed around milkshakes and cookies, mini ice cream cones, along with boozy snow cones and ice pops.”
Sonia Sharma, creative director with Sonia Sharma Events & Design, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based designer and producer of high-end private events, produced an after-party that included a celebrity chef who came with his own pizza oven, talking to the guests as he was cooking their custom pies.
“We also had fire dancers outside and go-go dancers inside,” she says. “What made this party memorable was the thoughtfulness and consideration that went into planning it.”
That’s key, especially if more than one tent is involved, says Alicia Caldecott, owner of A Day in May Event Planning & Design LLC, a luxury wedding and social event planning business in Traverse City, Mich.
“You want there to be a very thoughtful flow for guests,” she explains. “You don’t want them to feel as if they’re being shuffled around from tent to tent. You want them to feel as if they’re being led with intention and purpose.”
Caldecott recalls a wedding where the after-party tent was built out over the water and transformed into a nightclub. As the party in the reception tent was winding down, the band introduced a DJ who handed out “silent DJ” headsets (these allow wearers to listen to their choice of music without others hearing; color indicators alert others to what track the person is listening to). All headsets were tuned to the same track as guests headed down a path to continue the fun. The after-party was a complete surprise, says Caldecott, adding that guests were “shocked and delighted” that they didn’t have to go home.
Pamela Mills-Senn is a Long Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer